2017 AMA MX: Season Preview
In just a few days the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, presented by AMA Pro Racing, will kick off the 45th anniversary of the world’s most prestigious off-road motorcycle racing series from the sport’s longest-running event – the 49th Red Bull Hangtown Motocross Classic. As the days and hours leading into the opener this Saturday, May 20, continue to wind down, there’s arguably more attention being given to who will not be lining up on the gate in the premier 450 Class.
For just the seventh time in 46 seasons, there will not be a past champion in the starting lineup of the opening round in the 450 Class. Following a season-ending injury to defending Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Champion Ken Roczen, and yesterday’s retirement announcement from three-time titleholder Ryan Dungey, neither of the series’ most recent champions will participate in the 2017 summer season. As a result, the premier class will feature a wide-open battle to claim the vacant title amongst a collection of highly talented competitors all in search of their first championship.
Leading the way will be Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac. Last year’s runner-up not only has more wins than any other rider in the field, he’s coming off a breakout supercross season in which he captured nine victories and narrowly missed out on the title. He’s no stranger to making an early statement in the Pro Motocross season, and could be considered the early favourite to hoist the Edison Dye Cup at season’s end. Flanking him at Monster Energy Kawasaki will be veteran Josh Grant, who is one of just four former 450 Class winners.
Another rider that will be given considerable attention in the chase for the championship is Team Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Marvin Musquin, who now enters the season as the lead rider at KTM, poised to fill the void left by Dungey’s retirement. The Frenchman enjoyed a solid rookie season last summer and will be a podium threat every time the gate drops in his chase for a first 450 Class win and title. Alongside Musquin will be Trey Canard, who is in the midst of his first season with the team. Canard is one of the four past winners in the class and while he’s been fighting through ups and downs this season, his past experience is amongst the most valuable in the paddock.
In addition to Red Bull KTM, the Austrian brand will also provide support to RMATV/MC-WPS-KTM and its lineup of Blake Baggett, Davi Millsaps and reigning 450 Class Rookie of the Year Benny Bloss. Baggett has the potential to improve upon the promise he’s shown the past two seasons in the premier class and should be one of the handful of riders battling for the podium each round. Millsaps is a savvy veteran who has arguably more experience than any other rider in the paddock, and will begin his season late while recovering from recent surgery, while Bloss is ready to build on the promising foundation he set last summer.
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s two-rider lineup of Jason Anderson and Dean Wilson presents intrigue, with the former 250 Class rivals possessing enough speed and talent to be contenders on any given weekend. Anderson has made multiple trips to the podium in his two seasons of 450 Class competition, and while he’s still chasing a first career win he continues to show improvement. Wilson is a former 250 Class champion that hasn’t been able to gain much 450 Class experience after being plagued by injury in recent years, but he’s acclimated well to the Husqvarna squad after signing with them earlier this year and really has nothing to lose this summer.
While Team Honda HRC will be forced to contest the 2017 season without its lead rider Roczen, it still has high hopes for a summer of success. Cole Seely will compete in his third season of 450 Class competition and while he’s been hindered by injury thus far, he’s more than capable of challenging for podiums. The team has also enlisted the services of Christian Craig to replace Roczen. With no significant pressure and his immense natural talent, Craig could put in some head turning rides this season.
Suzuki enters the 2017 season as the reigning 450 Class Manufacturer Champion. The departure of Roczen means Broc Tickle and Justin Bogle will lead the way for RCH/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing. Tickle enjoyed a strong summer last season, earning a pair of podium finishes, and is more than capable of running up front. Bogle has fought the injury bug since making the move into the division two years ago, but he’s show flashes of speed and his knack for starting will give him opportunities to contend.
In addition to the RCH squad, Suzuki will also consist of Autotrader/Monster Energy/Suzuki/JGRMX for the 2017 season. Justin Barcia has enjoyed solid performances the last two years and by adding the optimism of a new bike, the sky is the limit to what “Bam Bam” could accomplish this summer. He’s one of a handful of riders to keep an eye on. Joining Barcia at JGR will be Weston Peick. The endless confidence Peick brings to the track makes him a capable contender that can battle alongside the 450 Class elite, and he enters the championship feeling more motivated coming off an injury.
The Monster Energy/Yamalube/Chaparral/Yamaha Financial Services/Yamaha Factory Racing effort will feature just one rider in 2017 – 450 Class rookie Cooper Webb. After a championship-winning effort in his final 250 Class season last summer Webb is ready to take on the stars of the premier division, fully confident in his ability to make his presence felt. Webb is a determined competitor and is going to give it his all from the moment the first gate drops.
With Webb vacating his 250 Class title, the stage is set for what should be a compelling battle for that championship, featuring an exceptional depth of talent. Spearheading this group is Jeremy Martin, a two-time titleholder and the only rider in the division with championship experience. His move to GEICO Honda could allow him to become just the second rider in history to win championships aboard two different manufacturers. Joining him at the GEICO Honda stable are experienced riders RJ Hampshire and Jimmy Decotis, along with rookies Chase Sexton and Cameron McAdoo.
Martin’s fiercest challenge will arguably come from the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki effort, which will be chasing its 11th Lucas Oil Pro Motocross title this summer. Leading the way for this highly talented foursome is Joey Savatgy, who earned multiple wins en route to third in the championship last season. Reigning Rookie of the Year Austin Forkner, newly crowned supercross champion Justin Hill, and potential breakout star Adam Cianciarulo will accompany Savatgy in the team’s quest for the Gary Jones Cup. All four competitors have podium experience and collectively offer perhaps the most formidable lineup in the division.
The reigning three-time championship-winning team at Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha will seek a fourth title this summer with up-and-comer Aaron Plessinger stepping into the role previously occupied by Martin and Webb. Plessinger is a former winner and with two seasons under his belt, 2017 could be his time to take the next step in his young career. Also racing out of the Star Yamaha truck is sophomore rider Mitchell Harrison, along with a pair of new additions in Frenchman Dylan Ferrandis and Oklahoma native Colt Nichols. While there might not be a lot of experience on the team collectively, the talent is there to make their presence felt yet again.
The Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM squad enters the 2017 season with perhaps its best chance at challenging for a title, with veteran Alex Martin joining the team this season and looking to build off a breakout 2016 campaign in which he won a pair of races and finished runner-up in the championship. Martin’s confidence and experience is sure to benefit Shane McElrath, who also emerged as a contender last season, as well as returning rider Mitchell Oldenburg and the team’s newest rider Jordon Smith. Making his pro debut at Hangtown will be amateur standout Sean Cantrell, rounding out a solid five-rider lineup.
With his first professional title under his belt from supercross, Zach Osborne is hoping to bring added momentum into the summer with his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team. Osborne showed flashes of brilliance last summer, which culminated in his first win on U.S. soil and the first win for Husqvarna in the 250 Class. He’s more than capable of building off that success this season and will look to bring veteran Martin Davalos along with him for what is undoubtedly the most experienced tandem in the division.
Rounding out the deep 250 Class field is the inaugural season for JGRMX in the smaller displacement. Matt Bisceglia, who will begin the summer later coming off an injury, will anchor the Autotrader/Monster Energy/Suzuki/JGRMX effort, looking to build off a 2016 season in which he gained valuable experience racing in the 450 Class. Filling in Bisceglia’s absence early on will be veteran Kyle Cunningham, who posted solid results for the team as a fill-in rider in supercross.